At the mere thought of seeing Prince live, what expectations would you have? You might expect him to be aloof and elusive, as suggested by his recent crusade against illicit videos and photos, and his stringent no photo policy. Or maybe you’d think the spotlight would be on Prince and his catalogue of hit songs, as denoted by his projected character and explicitly labeled on the venue’s marquee. The reality? Take all of these expectations and throw them out the door (except perhaps the elusive part).
Last night at the Showbox at the Market, Prince and his backing band, 3rd Eye Girl, played their first two US shows back to back, and the only word that came to mind throughout the show was “WOW.” Not only did the show start promptly on time, but the majority of the show displayed an energetic Prince who was eager to push the spotlight not just on himself, but on his backing band and the audience itself. Prince kicked off his second show of the night with “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Endorphinmachine,” before addressing the crowd and taking a jab at some of the newer pop stars. “Ready for some lip syncing? Everyone else is doing it,” he said before launching into “Screwdriver,” with the lyrics projected on stage’s screen.
After the explosive wave of rock ‘n’ roll jams concluding with “She’s Always in My Hair,” the blinding strobes suddenly went off and the mood shifted dramatically. The lights went off, and a melodic, instrumental version of “Liathach” was played as a seeming break in the set; most of us assumed Prince had left the stage until it was later revealed that he was performing the song on a keyboard in the back, unlit corner of the stage. This was more or less how the rest of the night played out: a few rock heavy songs full of electric guitar shredding, funk band jamming, and bright lights beaming, interjected with slower ballads performed by Prince in almost total darkness. There was particular rhythm or flow to the night’s set, which included more songs such as “Plectrum Electrum,” “FixUrLifeUp,” “Cause and Effect,” and “2 Young 2 Dare;” the night’s agenda was at the complete discretion of Prince.
Despite plenty of rock star poses and striking guitar solos, Prince was generous with the spotlight. Lots of attention was given to 3rd Eye Girl, even introducing them individually during his opening song and identifying himself as a part of the band. The all-female backing band consisted of Donna Grantis on guitar, Ida Nielson on bass, and Hannah Ford on drums; the trio definitely left their mark with Grantis’ guitar shredding duels with Prince making for impressive displays of musicianship between songs. Said Prince towards the end of the show, “for a few months now, we’ve been doing this in Minneapolis, just jamming like a garage band. We are 3rd Eye Girl. My name is Prince.”
Towards the end of the solid hour-long set, another performer was brought on stage: a guy named Josh who played the cowbell. “Will Ferrell was his teacher,” Prince joked. As Prince began saying his goodbyes (I counted at least 7 throughout the night), puzzlement filled the air. How could the show be over without “Purple Rain,” “1999,” or any other iconic Prince songs?
Of course, Prince had encores, two to be exact. And while he didn’t keep us waiting to get the show started, he took his sweet time between encores. The first encore was “Let’s Work” and “U Got the Look,” made highly interactive by Prince and Mr. Cowbell, who pulled four lucky front row girls up on stage to dance. After another drawn out round of goodbyes and long wait, encore number two was what we had all been waiting for: a DJ sampler set of (some) of Prince’s greatest hits including “When the Doves Cry,” “Nasty Girl,” “Pop Life,” “I Would Die for You,” and “Housequake.” Towards the middle of this set, Prince quipped, “Got too many hits; we gonna be here all night!” Interestingly, Prince remained elusive during this last encore, DJing little snippets of his hits (none played in their entirety) in the shadowed corner of the stage, letting Third Eye Girl dance it up in the spotlight. The last set was much like the rest of the night: a tease that left you drooling and hoping for more.
Prince plays another show in Seattle tonight, followed by select West coast dates through May 13.